This week’s “Wetlands Warrior” interview features Dr. John Lopez, a coastal scientist and Director of the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation’s Coastal Sustainability Program since June 2005. He has training in Geology, Engineering, and Biological Sciences and has handled project assignments for CWPPRA (the Coastal Wetlands Planning, Protection and Restoration Act) while working for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Dr. Lopez developed the Multiple Lines of Defense Strategy which integrates flood protection and coastal restoration. He has chaired the Lake Pontchartrain Artificial Reef Working Group that has constructed nine reefs in the lake. Dr. Lopez received the Conservationist of the Year Award in 2008 from the Louisiana Wildlife Federation and the Coastal Zone 05 Conference Award from NOAA (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration).
Global Green USA (GGUSA): What sparked your passion for protecting Louisiana’s wetlands?
Dr. John Lopez (JL): I’m from Greater New Orleans and grew up around the lake, but I went fishing south in Empire, LA as a kid. Now, the wetland and barrier island areas where my Dad took us fishing are gone. The lake has always been a big motivator also because of an attachment to the lake. I had a WWII vet friend who fished on the lake for decades, and he taught me much about the lake. Sharon and I have been living on the shore of Lake Pontchartrain since 1992. We enjoy the daily sites of the lake, marsh and wildlife.
GGUSA: Can you tell us a bit about your past or current work on wetlands?
JL: I worked for 20 years in the oil industry studying the geology of the coast. I then worked for the US Army Corps of Engineers in the Coastal Restoration Branch. During that time, I did my dissertation as an analysis of environmental impacts to the Lake Pontchartrain Basin since European settlement, and I was also a volunteer for Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation (LPBF). Therefore, the period of 1998 to 2005 was an intense emersion-learning period in coastal restoration, policy and administration, and it put me on my current trajectory professionally.
I graduated in 2003 from the University of New Orleans (UNO) with a multidisciplinary doctorate degree in coastal engineering and coastal science. I had the good fortune that my advisor was Shea Penland, and other outstanding professors from UNO.
GGUSA: What important, yet little-known, wetland fact would you like to share with our audience?
JL: The Caernarvon Diversion is building a delta and supporting cypress reforestation, which helps protect the perimeter levee around Greater New Orleans. We hear so much of wetland loss that this little miracle may be overlooked.
GGUSA: What do you view as the primary obstacle to wetland restoration?
JL: Funding. Even with a rosy projection of BP funding, funding will be inadequate.
GGUSA: What is something you would like to see added or emphasized in the 2017 State of Louisiana Coastal Master Plan?
JL: Chandeleur Island restoration should be included in the State Master Plan (SMP) because of the hurricane surge benefit and because it was highly impacted by the BP spill. Also in general, the SMP should look for ways to cut cost of restoration while providing the same benefits.
GGUSA: What is the one thing the average community member can do in the battle to restore coastal Louisiana?
JL: Call or write your state representatives supporting the State Master Plan and the 2015 Annual Plan which supports the SMP.